Hello readers. I hope you are well. I am less than stellar, unfortunately. I am writing this blog post on the evening 14R bus back to my apartment in Richmond.
It is 8 p.m. My feet hurt. My frozen fingers are juggling between typing this on my phone and huddling in my sweater pocket hoping to find some sensation of touch. I am tired, cold, dirty and riding back to an apartment where a tupperware of frozen rice, stale cabbage and a poorly cooked chicken breast is waiting for my hungry tummy.
I am cruising through a Financial District that has cleared out of people who have all gone home for the day. So why am I still around? Because this genius got lost.
I keep forgetting that Americans drive on the right. So I ended up taking the correct buses but went in the opposite direction from the places I intended to go, simply because I was on the wrong side of the road.
Here’s the breakdown of how my travel snafus usually go down: I walk out onto the sidewalk. I pull out Google Maps and sillily spin and shuffle around trying to find the direction I am supposed to go to head home. Yes, the road being on the right side also messes with my internal compass.
I find my direction, I get in the bus. I squeeze in the crowded vehicle, find a wall to rest my body against and brace for the inertia for when the bus kicks into drive. For the first time in the day, I let myself relax. I close my eyes, recap the day I have had and think about what I have to do tomorrow, the preparations I have to make, the food I have to cook, my budget, home, my family, the Star Wars: The Last Jedi analysis videos I have to watch… Wait, where am I?
I snap out of my daze. My stop should have come up by now. I pull out my phone, spin and shuffle around in the bus to reorient my GPS and suffer a mini heart attack when my I see the blue dot is on the other side of the city. I just travelled for an hour in the complete opposite direction.
I yank on the stop chain and jump out of the bus. The sun has set and I am in a place I do not recognize. There isn’t a more terrifying feeling than being alone, lost, at night, in the cold – in a city you do not know.
“Konichiwa!” a voice rings out behind me. I spin around and there is a homeless man, wrapped in cardboard standing behind me. “Gimme some change for beer, son.”
“Oh no sir, I’m not Japanese” … Wait! Not important! Focus! You’re lost. My face goes back to my shivering fingers tapping away at my phone trying to find a new route back. Buses seem to run in less frequency after rush hour because I had to wait a full 15 minutes for my next ride. Hopefully, I was on the right side of the road this time.
I pocket my phone and finally take a good look at where I was. Homeless tents and cardboard litter the street on my left and right. And their occupants were all looking at me. I gulp and let out a nervous toothy smile. For some reason, I recall a very specific line Alfred Friendly Fellow Smitha Rajan said about situations like this. “In India, all your things will be gone.”
Thankfully I make it on to the next bus without incident and here I am now writing this.
But why am I writing this? Perhaps my brain has been fried with pneumonia but I guess this blog post is a perfect example of the whole grass is greener and expectations vs. reality mentality that Malaysians have about those who live in a Western country, particularly places as swanky as San Francisco.
We have this image that once a person is there, they’ve made it. They’ve reached a land where everything goes right for them and there is no discomfort or regrets or a bigger need to upgrade one’s social status in life. They’ve made it to the big leagues.
I’ve had this image in my head of my friends who made it overseas, like they were stuck in a state of perpetual happiness as they chronicled their new Western lives on social media. It must be nice being them, I thought. They don’t have to deal with the mundane day to day tasks of getting stuck in a traffic jam, or a pothole, or unsanitary toilets or just plain things not going their way.
But I digress. I did have that adrenaline rush, honeymoon feel of being in a cool new country when I first arrived. But as the days turn into weeks and now months, it is slowly sinking in that this isn’t a holiday I am on — I actually have to live and survive here.
Being here now makes me realize it’s pretty much “same shit, different day” whether you are in humid sticky Kuala Lumpur or Bay Area tech heaven San Francisco. My happy social media friends probably are having crappy days wherever they are too — they just choose not to show it.
Ultimately I guess the big lesson here is that… Oh. This is my stop —bye!.